Baby Ketten Has A Furever Home

Posted Posted in artsy fartsy, karaoke, portland

I’ve written about the best karaoke in the world, Portland’s Baby Ketten Karaoke, many times. I’ve done it here and here and here and here. My friend Jay Horton wrote all about the new all-ketten all the time club here.

It’s big news! Baby Ketten Karaoke is on the scene 7 nights a week on SE Powell, where it all began! Where I met Brophy and his crew, where I sang my first song, I Want Your Sex by George Michael, while wearing a petticoat of some sort (I mean a lot of these are sense memories), where I got drunk and bought a painting of a pitbull, where two sisters waited for an ambulance after one of them bit the other one’s nose sort of OFF, where Klingon Karaoke happened for a while, where I DJ’ed a terrible goth night where an attendee asked me to play the I’m Dead I’m Dead song, all that spirit and magic has swirled together for all the Kettens to meet up. I am getting there as soon as I can and I’ll see you when that happens! Check out the best songbook in the world here!

I Have A Dark Footish

Posted Posted in artsy fartsy, comedy, Gothic, halloween, karaoke, los angeles, music, portland

My friend Simon Max Hill is a hard-working casting agent who has been casting Portlandia, Nike spots, and other important television from his seat in Portland,OR.  He’s also an enthusiast of dancing, robots, and being a super weird generator of ideas at all times.  On Tuesday, he announced that it was my responsibility to make a sock puppet music video, and by Thursday I had it up.

  Here’s Dark Footish covering the Smiths.  And to the nice lady who said “Oh, this is great, I hope there’s more!”- it currently has 22 views.  I am the gothic Naomi Campbell of Youtube, I don’t get out of my coffin for fewer than 100 views.

Baby Ketten Los Angeles!

Posted 1 CommentPosted in comedy, glendalia, Gothic, karaoke, los angeles, portland, women



Dear Los Angelans:

I’m very excited to share with you some important mews.  The legendary Baby Ketten Karaoke, with the baddest book in the universe, (where “bad” means “good” and “universe” means “Continental United States”) is opening a local satellite that will run first and third Sundays at the Ace Hotel in LA, starting Sunday, Aug 3rd!  RSVP here!

It’s slated to be rooftop karaoke, with plenty of space for dancing and singing and hot tubbing and shenanigans, run by the Ketten’s close friend Meggie Nicole!  If we have ever stood next to each other for any amount of time you have heard me run my mouth about Portland’s Baby Ketten, which is the best karaoke ever.  The book is not just expansive but obsessive, with many many many original Ketten-only tracks, and constantly updated with today’s weirdest hits!  Here’s the New York Times article on the Ketten phenom: here!

Have you ever wanted to sing Siouxsie Sioux’s apocalyptic lullaby, Metal Postcard? Probably not, but I did, and I sang it at Baby Ketten!  Bauhaus’ Kick in the Eye? Think you can keep an audience through Pulp’s bump and grind classic, This is Hardcore? Find out! Do you think singing Laid by James will get a singalong going? Can you handle Tori Amos’ Crucify? Do you think you can step to The Strangler’s Peaches?

Here is a partial listing of my favorite Baby Ketten Karaoke tracks to give you a taste.    Go to their website here or install the app to look for your favorite songs!  YES OF COURSE THEY HAVE AN APP!


Mark Ronson- Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This one Before

Suicidal Tendencies- Institutionalized

Nine Inch Nails- Something I Can Never Have

Hoodoo Gurus- Like Wow, Wipeout

Tori Amos- Smells Like Teen Spirit

The Smiths- The Queen Is Dead

The Horrors- Still Life

She & Him- Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?

The Cure- Why Can’t I Be You?

The Cure- The Walk

LCD Soundsystem- Daft Punk Is Playing At My House

Radiohead- Lucky

The Normal- Warm Leatherette

The Dead Milkmen- Instant Club Hit

Rufus Wainwright- Vibrate

Nina Simone- I Need A Little Sugar In My Bowl

Desire- Under Your Spell

Belle And Sebastian- Lord Antony

Siouxsie and the Banshees-Metal Postcard

Echo and the Bunnymen-Killing Moon

XTC-Senses Working Overtime

Japan-Quiet Life

Replacements-Alex Chilton

Nick Cave-Red Right Hand

Proclaimers-Sunshine on Leith

Beats International-Dub Be Good To Me

Belle and Sebastian-Funny Little Frog

Pixies- No. 13 Baby

Beautiful South-Rotterdam

Pulp- This is Hardcore

Psychic TV- Godstar

Warpaint- Undertow


I love the Ketten so much I have talked about them in my blog before, here and here!

POSTSCRIPT: This show ROCKED and everyone who was a part of it was GREAT!  Local karaoke celebs Kevin Cable and Howard Hallis came out!  BABY KETTEN will be back Aug 17!



Ground Control Karaoke

Posted Posted in Gothic, gothixxx, karaoke, los angeles

Dear Los Angeles Karaoke Nerds;

I hope you know that the finest karaoke in LA is to be found in the Ground Control book curated by the awesome Andrew Paul Holguin, appearing Tuesdays at Offbeat in Highland Park- are you aware that this is a tight, super-weird, nerd-friendly book?  That there’s a Smiths list as long as your arm?   That the crowd is patient and endlessly supportive?  It starts around nine and ends when the fun stops, which is never!  Here’s a short list of a few of my favorite songs.  Ground Control, thanks for letting me sing G.G. Allin’s I Kill Everything I Fuck, which was my prom theme.  Weird songs!  Weird people!  Good Times!

Arctic Monkeys-R U Mine

Black Keys-Gold On The Ceiling

Cramps- Goo Goo Muck

Current 93-Crowleymass

Daft Punk-Get Lucky

David Bowie- Moonage Daydream

Deniece Williams-Let’s Hear It for the Boy

Duffy- Mercy

Editors- Munich

GG Allin-I Kill Everything I Fuck


Hole- Violet

INXS-Listen Like Thieves

La’s-There She Goes

Leonard Cohen-Future

Mark Ronson Feat Amy Winehouse-Valerie

Nick Cave-Jubilee Street

Nick Cave-Mercy Seat

Patti Smith-Because The Night

Pixies- Hey (Baby Ketten Version)

Psychic TV- Godstar

Pulp- This is Hardcore

Radiohead-Exit Song (From A Film)

Robert Palmer- I Didn’t Mean To Turn You On

Sam And Dave-Soul Man


Sly Foxx-Let’s Go All The Way

Soft Cell- Bedsitter

Smiths-Headmaster Ritual

Smiths- What Difference Does It Make?

Space-Female of the Species

Sparks-This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both Of Us

Suede-Beautiful Ones

Television-Torn Curtain

Tom Waits-I Hope That I Don’t Fall In Love With You

Velvet Underground-Heroin

White Stripes- My Doorbell

Will Smith-Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It

Wombats-Let’s Dance To Joy Division

Yazoo-Bad Connection

Alt Resume

Posted Posted in artsy fartsy, comedy, costume, fashion, gay, Gothic, gothixxx, halloween, karaoke, long beach, los angeles, music, portland, seattle, trivia, vegan, women

I am close to taking my Summer Sabbatical, which is not really what it is, but it makes my Mom feel better when I say “I’m Taking A Sabbatical” instead of “I’m quitting my job and hanging out all Summer”.  I thought it was time to get my list of “OTHER” skills together and post them on the Internet.

If you feel like you read a slightly different but kind of the same list as this one, it’s because my site was hacked and my service restored from last week’s restore point and I lost it.  It’s because SOMEONE was very jealous of my 70 hits a day.  Eat it, haters!

1. Pit Toilets: I’m very good at using pit toilets in Asia.  You just have to pretend you’re camping, which you kind of are.

2. Sleeping on Airplanes: Also work related.  I can sleep bolt upright on a red eye to Turkey and emerge as fresh and ready as if I had slept in a garbage- filled car.

3.  Tap Dancing.  I’m not the world’s best tap dancer (SAVION GLOVER, because we can really only have one famous tap dancer at a time), but it’s the skill that took the most time and expense to learn, and which has the lowest street value.  I’m considering trying to make people pay me NOT to do it.

4.  Bemani.  It’s no longer fashionable but I can totally do it- I get more points for style than accuracy on Dance, Dance, Revolution, but Karaoke Revolution is my bitch.

5. For that matter, I can lead in six count swing, and I can lead about five things in Lindy hop- I’m a good Lindy follow- I like a lot of dances.

6.  I can make dance parties happen.  I can make people do it.  At karaoke, at coffeeshops- most of the time.

7.  Karaoke.  I’m good at it.  I don’t have the most amazing American Idol style voice, but I know my range and I will perform the SHIT out of a song.  I like to work a crowd.  When I do it in Hong Kong they are upset with the dancing and eye contact.

8.  Comedy.  I do it for money and for free.  Mostly for free.  Don’t ask me to tell you a joke, I’ll make you laugh, m-f.  Just you wait.

9.  I can draw- I haven’t for around five-seven years, but I probably still can, right?  I’m sure I can.  I have an art degree.  I can blind contour the shit out of something.

10.  According to the Munsell test of Color Acuity, I am a Superior Color Discriminator.  I will discriminate the shit out of your color.  I need a lab coat and a light box with a true North setting.  But I will do it.

11.  I can make patterns and sew.  Again, I usually don’t.   But I can make seriously obscure and fucked up Halloween costumes!

12.  Goth Makeup and Fantasy Make up!  I want to teach a stage makeup course for comics and actors sometime.  I have an airbrush and I’m  not scared to use it!  I can airbrush a fake tattoo on you!

13.  I’m really good at telling long, involved, interconnected stories to people on acid.  I can be on acid or not, it doesn’t matter.

14.  I can tell a fake art history lecture at the drop of a hat, especially if the hat is from a particularly evocative period

15.  I’m really good at making one kind of vegan chocolate chip cookies.  Just one kind.

16.   I’m really good at maintaining a blog for 8 years that only my mother consistently reads!

17.  If I had just bought my first guitar, I would be a crazy natural guitar playing genius- however, I have had my own guitar for a decade, and play it occasionally.  I’m mediocre, but proud!

18.  I’m really good at steering an oversized Costco shopping cart with my elbows while eating free BBQ nuts.

19.  I’m a good trivia team member- I don’t know that much about television or sports, but I’m very good at arbitration to try to determine the likeliest answer.  Also, I like to win but I don’t care if I do.

20.  I’m really good at running a White Elephant party.  I will whip the crowd into a frenzy over Scratch tickets and a rubber garden gnome.  Blood will flow!

21.  Despite all the above, I’m really good at not going to Burning Man!  I haven’t gone every year it’s happened!  Consecutively!

With this kind of skill set, I’m gonna destroy this job market!

Baby Ketten Forever

Posted Posted in costume, Gothic, karaoke, music, portland

I know I’ve mentioned the majesty of Baby Ketten and its benevolent overlord, John Brophy, on this page, but finally the New York Times Magazine has given Ketten its due.


  • Shawn Records for The New York Times

John Brophy, the mastermind of America’s greatest karaoke night, lives in a well-kept bungalow in a neighborhood of small homes in southeast Portland, Ore. When I visited on a weekday afternoon last spring, Brophy, then 36, wore a ringer T-shirt and dark jeans. His wrist was encircled by a half-dozen bracelets, and his dark hair swooped in front of his face. Like many Portlanders, he’s in a band, called Gingerbread Patriots, although currently the band is on hiatus — the “Shows” section of the Gingerbread Patriots Web site is empty but for the words “2009 will bring shows shows and more shows!”

John Brophy, the Baby Ketten K.J., at his Portland studio.

While his daughters, ages 10 and 15, did homework, Brophy and I sat on his bed in front of a flat-screen monitor as he showed me how he builds a karaoke track. Over the course of the next two hours, he would create a karaoke video for Radiohead’s song “Electioneering,” complete with snazzy graphics, Thom Yorke’s lyrics and Jonny Greenwood’s electrifying guitar solo, so that I could sing the song at the karaoke night he runs, Baby Ketten Karaoke. Rotating between private parties, bars and a pizza place, Baby Ketten is ecstatic, virtuosic and a little intimidating. At the center of Portland’s amazingly creative karaoke scene, it’s something close to a genuine artistic movement. And it’s ridiculously fun.

Every week, Brophy adds as many as 20 tracks to the Baby Ketten songbook. Some of these are songs he purchases from karaoke studios, not unlike any karaoke jockey, or K.J., in America. But many of them are songs hand-assembled by Brophy, much as he’s doing with “Electioneering” — B.K.K. originals that Brophy constructs either because the studios that recorded “official” karaoke versions did bad jobs, or because the song is such an obscurity that no studio has ever recorded a karaoke version. For example, if you’d like to sing Bikini Kill’s “Rebel Girl,” the Gregory Brothers’ “Bed Intruder Song” (with full Auto-Tune), Danger Doom’s “Sofa King” or Neutral Milk Hotel’s “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea,” Baby Ketten has them all. (I know: I saw people sing them.) Your local karaoke bar doesn’t.

To build his B.K.K. originals, Brophy scours eBay for old 45s with instrumental B-sides. He sometimes builds hip-hop songs by isolating the samples the original producers used and stacking them block by block, like Legos. He works on songs online with a network of like-minded D.I.Y. K.J.’s around the world. Sometimes, in a sound-dampened studio in his basement, he records whole tracks from scratch, playing the guitar and bass himself. He once drove himself crazy recording the bass for Joy Division’s “Transmission.” “That choppy bass at the beginning, I always thought it was early stuff, Peter Hook was unpolished, he was playing poorly,” Brophy told me. “But listening to it with headphones — it’s all intentional, he’s doing pulloffs.” He demonstrated on an air bass: “Dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun,” pulling his left-hand fingers off the fret with every single eighth note, a staccato exercise that looked exhausting for three measures, much less a four-minute song. “I don’t play bass like that, but I had to get as close as possible. Well, I didn’t have to.”

To build “Electioneering,” Brophy started with a French studio’s rerecording of the song as his template, then spliced the actual Radiohead song’s instrumental intro and outro (featuring Greenwood’s solo) onto the middle section of the track, with a dozen deft clicks of the mouse. He Googled the song’s lyrics. Then he stretched, clapped his hands together and prepared to “tap it out.”

In order to tell the program he uses to highlight each word of the lyrics during playback — when the bouncing ball, as it were, should bounce — Brophy must tap each syllable of the song lyrics in rhythm. Perched on the edge of the bed, Brophy listened intently, his finger poised above the space bar, as the song filled the room. As Yorke sang each syllable — I go for wards you go back wards and some where we will meeeeeeeeet — Brophy jabbed the space bar. Watching his rhythmic tapping, each finger landing just a millisecond before the beat, I was reminded of his demonstration of the intricacies of Peter Hook’s bass. This is just another way of making music: the space bar a string, a computer with 16 gigabytes of RAM an instrument, the actual singer off in the future — me, the customer, who would later that week look to Brophy’s video to guide me through the song.

Every so often, a city becomes a crucible of innovation for a particular musical form: a place where circumstances conspire to create a very special creative flowering; where mad geniuses push one another to innovate further and further beyond where anyone thought they could go. Seattle, 1990. The Bronx, 1979. Memphis, 1954. These moments changed American entertainment.

But what if a musical revolution wasn’t in grunge, or hip-hop, or rock ’n’ roll? What if it was in karaoke? Is it possible that one of the most exciting music scenes in America is happening right now in Portland, and it doesn’t feature a single person playing an actual instrument?

You may recall when you were younger that many nights achieved, for perhaps an hour or two, a state of euphoria so all-consuming that the next morning you could only describe the nights as “massive” or “epic.” Adventures were had. Astonishing things were seen. Maybe you stole a Coke machine, whatever. You would toss off these words — massive, epic — casually at brunch, annoying the middle-aged people sitting nearby who were grimly aware that even as those nights become few and far between, the price you pay afterward in hangovers and regrets is significantly greater. (If you are younger, you may be in the middle of a massive night right now, in which case you should stop reading this article. Put down your phone and go to it! This might be the last one.)

For me, those few such nights I get anymore revolve around karaoke. Something about the openness required to sing in public — and the vulnerability it makes me feel — allows me to cut loose in an un-self-conscious way. It’s hard, anymore, to lose myself in the moment. Karaoke lets me do that.

But I recently moved to Arlington, Va., with two children, and so I rarely go out at night to sing (or do anything). We have friends in Arlington, but not the kind of friends we had in New York — not yet. I sing whenever I can on business trips, with friends I browbeat into renting rooms at trusty karaoke spots like BINY or Second on Second. But for quite some time, I’d been reading Facebook status updates and tweets from acquaintances in Portland that suggested the city was some kind of karaoke paradise — a place in which you could sing every night in a different bar, and where the song choices were so outlandishly awesome that you might never run out of songs to sing.

My mission in Portland was to see if this could possibly be true. Portland does have dozens of karaoke bars, and over the course of six nights we did our best to visit them all. I sang Lee Ann Womack in a honky-tonk in far southeast Portland, Kanye West in a comedy club and INXS in a Chinese restaurant. I watched Emilie, my seven-months-pregnant sister-in-law, sing Melanie’s “Brand New Key” onstage at Stripparaoke night at the Devils Point, a teensy, low-ceilinged club on a triangular lot well outside Portland’s downtown, while a topless dancer worked the pole next to her. Afterward, the dancer — whose bare stomach featured a tattoo of a vividly horrible shark and the word REDRUM — gave Emilie a sweet hug.

And one night, I went with Emilie, her husband and my wife to the Alibi Tiki Lounge, which advertises itself as Portland’s “Original Tiki Bar.” Inside, the crowd seemed at first to be the familiar karaoke mix of wannabes and birthday celebrators you might find in any bar in any city. Someone sang “Sweet Caroline” almost as soon as we walked in. A drunken birthday girl couldn’t handle the Ting Tings song she’d chosen, so the K.J. switched midtrack to Rebecca Black’s “Friday,” which was more her speed.

But an hour in, a goofily dressed group gave an impressively committed performance of a Tenacious D song, one of them growling and snorting like Satan so enthusiastically that several audience members in the front row became visibly uncomfortable.

When they were done, I walked back to their table, where I sat down next to a guy with long straight hair and a top hat. “We’re all musicians,” the guy, Gregory Mulkern, said. He himself is a professional banjo player. “But we really love karaoke because you don’t actually have to care at all.”

“Karaoke in Portland is just different from other places,” said his friend Bruce Morrison. “There’s a lot of showmanship.”

Mulkern swept his long hair over his shoulders and put his top hat back on. “People in Portland,” he declared, “are sillier than in other places.”

In the corner of the booth, a woman with dark-rimmed eyes and black lipstick leaned forward suddenly and took my pen from my hand. She wrote a phone number in my notepad. “Do you know,” she asked, staring intently into my eyes, “about puppet karaoke?”

Chopsticks III: How Can Be Lounge is located between a heavy-equipment rental shop and a Hanson pipe factory. It’s the kind of awful nightspot where if your watch was broken, you could keep time by the diminishing height of the melting heap of ice dumped in the urinal in the men’s room. When the heap of ice read 10:00, Chopsticks III was jammed with 50 people or more: groups of women out for a night away; a dwarf with an Afro who submitted his power ballads under the stage name Micro; a group of four buddies whose Monday-night karaoke club requires them to sing any song a friend challenges them to, blind. Also, a troupe of puppeteers from a local children’s theater, their snakes, ducks and cowgirls laid carefully across a table in the back of the bar.

This was puppet karaoke.

A puppeteer brought a long green boa constrictor onstage and sang “Steal My Sunshine,” which turned into “Sssssteal My Sssssunshine.” (The puppet’s name, I found out later, is Señor Serpiente.) A guy who looked just like Dick Butkus approached the microphone warily, unnerved by how big and puppet-heavy his audience was; when he sang “Drift Away” by Dobie Gray, we went wild, singing along to every word, clapping in time on the break. During the awkward karaoke fade-out at the end, he beamed. “You guys are awesome,” he said, then went back to the booth where he’d been sitting alone, nursing a beer.

A singer named Big Dan took the stage and tore into a guaranteed karaoke mood-killer, Drowning Pool’s nu-metal “Bodies.” But such was the magic of this night that during the song’s first verse, the puppeteers crept to the edge of the dance floor, and when the chorus hit — “Let the bodies hit the floor! Let the bodies hit the floor!” — they flung their puppets upward, the bears and cowboys and pigeons and fish all falling with little felten thumps to the ground. Big Dan, dressed all in black and even bigger than his name suggests, giggled so hard he could barely finish the song.

And me? I sang John Cougar Mellencamp’s “Cherry Bomb,” and dancers danced, and all through the song I thought about how relevant its lyrics (about how once upon a time we had fun, and now the kids laugh at us when we talk about the good old days) were so very relevant to my personal situation, the way you do.

Later, I drove downtown. The beer had long since worn off, but I still felt as if I were buzzing with the evening I’d just had. This was why I came to Portland. I needed to sing one more song, work one more crowd. My phone’s battery gave up the ghost just after valiantly supplying directions to the bar featuring Karaoke From Hell, a live band that has been backing amateurs in Portland for more than 20 years.

Inside the bar, a woman with a clipboard fended off all the requests of “Don’t Stop Believin’ ”; I slipped her 10 bucks and a few minutes later sang “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere,” with a tight rhythm section behind me. I thought I could keep singing forever, but the song’s only two and a half minutes long.

“You mention karaoke,” Danny Coble, a Portland K.J., told me, “and most people around the country have a certain picture — a 50-year-old K.J. with a flowered shirt, and he does Elvis impressions.” But in Portland, karaoke has attained a certain level of cool, thanks in part to the fact that it’s less the province of drunken bachelorette parties and more the territory of born performers scratching an itch.

“Portland has arguably more bands per capita than any other town,” Coble said. “Lots of people have two or three bands. But there’s never enough gigs, or no one comes to your gig, or you don’t have a drummer right now — so the city’s filled with frustrated performers.” In Portland, that bottled-up indie-rock performative energy comes out at karaoke night, where inventive song choice and onstage charisma are prized.

“Karaoke makes regular people rock stars, and rock stars regular people,” explained Caryn Brooks, the communications director for Portland’s mayor. Sometimes the singers are actual rock stars. Brooks has a vivid memory of the time in the late ’90s when, at the original Chopsticks, she saw Elliott Smith sing Billy Joel’s “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me.”

“I don’t want you to overlook the Japanese connection,” pointed out her boss, Mayor Sam Adams. (His term ended Dec. 31; he’s best known to fans of “Portlandia,” the IFC sketch-comedy show, as Sam, the mayor’s assistant.) “I believe we’re the smallest market with direct flights to Tokyo. We have 148 companies in the region that are Japanese-owned.”

“Also, we like a nice cocktail,” Brooks added.

Portlanders have a complicated relationship with “Portlandia,” but most everyone I talked to agreed that the show, with its hide-and-seek league, extreme locavores and put-a-bird-on-everything crafters, gets one thing exactly right: People in Portland are passionate about their weird pursuits.

“Portland attracts creative people,” said Katie Behrens, a die-hard John Brophy fan — a self-described Ketten — on another night. “And when creative people do karaoke, they look for ways to make it better.” We were all drinking a beer on my last night in town, warming up for a night of Baby Ketten at a pizza place on Mississippi Avenue. Behrens is 27 and an aspiring comedian. That night she was between jobs. She was exuberant about her relationship with all the Kettens and with John in particular — “My record is 10 nights in a row” — describing him again and again as not just a K.J. but also a supportive friend who makes her a better singer, a braver performer, a better person. “My second family is Baby Ketten,” she said. “I’m part of something special. And I don’t have to sit by myself.”

At the pizza place, John and a friend were setting up his custom light stands and speakers. I tossed a couple of bucks in his tip jar and signed up for “Electioneering,” the Radiohead song I watched him make at his house, then bought a round for our table. “Let’s call Justin to the stage,” John announced, “for something I’ve never done before.” We heard the unmistakable bass line to the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army,” but the song was playing noticeably slowly — perhaps two-thirds as fast as usual. We looked at Brophy, who shrugged. A tall young man in a puffy jacket swayed up onto the stage, then kicked into the lyrics — but instead of imitating Jack White’s rock ’n’ roll keen, he sang in a rhythm-and-blues croon. The song was instantly transformed from dirty garage rock to bedroom soul. It sounded incredible, as if the song were written that way in the first place. When it was over, Justin bowed, accepting our applause, then replaced the microphone in its stand and walked out the door, never to return.

After that, my performance of “Electioneering” was somewhat beside the point, but thanks to watching Brophy build the track, I certainly knew the song cold. It’s amazing what a difference a great sound mix makes — Brophy mixes singers from his board on the fly, and there was no mud or muddle in the sound, just pealing guitars and me, doing my damnedest to put on a show. As soon as I was done, I put my name back on the list for the song I’ve been waiting more than 20 years to sing, a song I love, a song that scared the hell out of me. My favorite ballad by my favorite band; a song I assumed would never, ever be available at karaoke, because it’s a feedback-drenched, near-indecipherable dirge: R.E.M.’s “Country Feedback.”

But it would be a while before the rotation got back to me. Brophy’s policy, designed to make sure as many people as possible get a chance to sing, is that new arrivals are moved to the front of the line, so for the next two hours I sat at our table and watched the weird and wonderful karaoke scene in action. The comics critic Douglas Wolk sang Trey Songz’s “Bottoms Up,” tearing ferociously into the Nicki Minaj verse. Katie Behrens sang Dia Frampton’s “The Voice” version of Kanye West’s “Heartless” but lost her voice on the bridge. (Everyone cheered for her anyway.) A short woman in a wool cap and wire-rimmed glasses rapped Ice Cube’s “You Can Do It” with one of the tightest flows I’d ever heard. “That’s my sister,” said the woman sitting next to me.

“My neighbors are junk dealers,” she continued. “Not junk like heroin, junk like junk. They sell junk out of their yard. It’s the most Portland thing.” Addie Beseda had the short haircut that seems more common on women in Portland than anywhere else I’ve been, and seemed remarkably lucid for someone who, self-reportedly, had been celebrating the first day of a new programming job since she left work.

“Here’s the important thing to remember about Portland,” she said. “No one’s here to get rich. Unlike everywhere else in America. There’s a critical mass here of people here following their passions. Oh, it’s my turn, hold on.” She polished off her beer, jogged up to the stage and began what was, by a wide measure, the most amazing song I heard in my Portland karaoke odyssey: “Prisencolinensinainciusol,” a 1972 epic written in gibberish by the Italian performer Adriano Celentano, supposedly to mimic how English sounds to the Italian ear. It is like four minutes of “Jabberwocky” with a Continental accent and a mod beat. The karaoke version is a Baby Ketten original, of course. Addie nailed every syllable, then high-fived her fellow Kettens all the way back to our table. “So, yeah,” she said. “People from Portland do stuff like that.”

Portland isn’t just the capital of karaoke, I was realizing. The Japanese influence, the small-business climate and the abundance of bands don’t really matter. Portland is the capital of America’s small ponds. It’s a city devoted to chasing that feeling — the feeling of doing something you love, just for a moment, and being recognized for it, no matter how obscure or unnecessary or ludicrous it might seem to the straight world. It is the capital of taking frivolity seriously, of being silly as if it’s your job.

At his booth, John Brophy cued up songs and cheered singers on and ran the lights and made everyone sound great. He is on a mission. In the week I was in Portland, he K.J.’ed two nights of public karaoke and two nights of private parties. The other nights he went out to sing at other people’s clubs. (At that honky-tonk, he sang LeAnn Rimes’s “Blue” so beautifully that I nearly wept.) Friends stopped by the booth to say a few words, request a track, buy him a drink, drop a dollar in the tip jar. All night long he smiled in the dark.

Much later that night, I finally sang “Country Feedback.” It was everything I hoped it would be. I closed my eyes and turned my back on the crowd and sank to the floor and went Full Stipe, really. It was the first time I ever truly felt like a rock star.

Closing time approached, and it was my last night in Portland, and I really hoped it might never end. We were all part of the show, and so we were all trying to find the perfect last song to sing. At 2:20 in the morning, I stepped onstage and heard the repeated piano pattern that begins LCD Soundsystem’s “All My Friends.” That’s how it starts.

John Brophy and the six remaining singers joined me up there, all six of them much younger than I, as the people who are out at 2:20 in the morning tend to be, and I felt a twinge of sadness that this would most likely be the last time I was out this late in a while, and we all danced wildly through the song’s six and a half aerobic minutes of ecstasy and regret, enthusiasm and embarrassment.

“I wouldn’t trade one stupid decision,” I sang, “for another five years of life.” As the song says, to tell the truth, this could be the last time. If I made a fool, if I made a fool, if I made a fool on the road, there’s always this. I have a face like a dad and a laughable stand and I can sleep on the plane and review what I said. I sang: “Where are your friends tonight? Where are your friends tonight? Where are your friends tonight?”